A charitable legal organization that sued the Alberta government over school protections for LGBTQ students has written to school boards across Alberta saying their policies may breach the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Alberta’s education minister, meanwhile, said she sees no problem with school board policies preventing principals from revealing whether a student belongs to a gay-straight alliance.
“I would say that John Carpay and his organization does not speak for the government of Alberta, nor do they speak for the department of education,” Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said at the legislature Thursday.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) is headed by Carpay, who last year compared the rainbow Pride flag to Nazi and Communist symbols. He was a United Conservative Party member at the time.
Edmonton boards’ policies will stay
On Thursday, the Alberta NDP shared a letter addressed to an Edmonton public school trustee from Marty Moore, staff lawyer for the JCCF. It refers to the “need to amend safe and caring policies.” Moore confirmed Thursday he authored the letter, and sent similar letters to every public and Catholic school board in Alberta.
The letter said legislative changes introduced in spring by the United Conservative Party government should prompt the Edmonton public school board to change policies that “keep secrets from parents about their children’s involvement in certain student organizations or activities.”
In an interview, Moore said he believes policies in use by Edmonton Catholic and Edmonton public schools violate the charter because they limit principals to disclosing only whether or not a gay-straight alliance or other student club exists at the school.
The former NDP government required schools to use that policy language in the School Act. The UCP government replaced the School Act with an amended Education Act in Bill 8, which rolled back requirements of schools to protect LGBTQ student and staff rights.
Alberta’s privacy commissioner has said a student’s participation in a GSA is private information in most cases, with exceptions for emergencies or other legal requirements.
Some school board trustees, like those at Edmonton public, said they’d keep the more restrictive policies required under the NDP.
Public school board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks said Thursday she takes exception to the “charged” language in the letter about the policies keeping secrets from parents.
The board doesn’t take advice from the JCCF and its policies will stay as they are, she said.
“You push for rights, and you have to continue to protect them sometimes,” she said. “I would hope that our province as a whole has moved along on protecting and not outing gay kids.”
The Edmonton Catholic school board has no plans to change its board policies in response to Bill 8, chairwoman Laura Thibert said in an emailed statement Thursday.
‘Exactly what we predicted’
NDP MLA and LGBTQ issues critic Janis Irwin said Thursday the JCCF letter is bullying and contains veiled threats about legal action.
“It’s exactly what we predicted would happen with Bill 8,” Irwin said. “We fought that bill hard, because we were worried about students being outed, and this is essentially what this does.”
NDP MLA and lawyer Rakhi Pancholi said there’s no foundation to the JCCF’s claim the board policies violate the charter. Both said the government should pay school boards’ legal bills if the JCCF launches a court challenge.
LaGrange wouldn’t commit to that step on Thursday. In question period, she said it’s “shameful” the NDP continue to play politics and cause fear about the issue.
Moore said the letters are supposed to be informative. The organization has no plans to take school boards to court, he said.
“The intention of the letter is really to help the boards, educate the board members about the constitutional rights of their students and families, and just to offer assistance in helping to respect those rights.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019